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The heart of darkness

Remedy’s latest, Alan Wake, is any less compelling in this roller coaster ride that blends ‘psychological terror’ with action almost perfectly.

tech reviews Updated: Jun 08, 2010 13:09 IST
Avinash Bali

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before. A writer suffering from writer’s block heads over to an idyllic yet creepy town with his beautiful wife to revive his inspiration. His wife suddenly disappears while his writings come to life. Writer scratches head and questions his sanity.

We’ve pretty much told you the plot of countless Hollywood flicks, but that doesn’t mean Remedy’s latest, Alan Wake, is any less compelling in this roller coaster ride that blends ‘psychological terror’ with action almost perfectly.

The creepy town
Tonnes of people fear the dark, but in the town of Bright Falls, people fear it for a reason, and that’s because a dark force called the Taken residing in the darkness has the ability to kill and possess innocent civilians, transform them into mindless zombies who are forced to carry out its bidding. This darkness can initially only hijack humans, but as you progress through the game, its powers grow stronger, allowing it to manipulate vehicles and objects.

Humans under the influence of the darkness cannot be harmed directly. You have to peel away their dark protective armour with your flashlight after which you’re free to put a slug through their heads. This mechanic pretty much forms the crux of combat throughout the game. You’ll come across brighter flashlights, more powerful enemies, and different weapons, but the method of dispatching them remains the same.

Fight to survive
For a survival horror title, the game is pretty generous with its ammo. Sure you’ll lose pretty much everything you’ve collected at the start of every chapter, but in a matter of minutes, you’ll stock up on pistols, shotguns, and hunting rifles, once again. There may not be a plethora of weapons to begin with, but the ones available pack in a punch.

Even when you’re armed to the teeth, you may find yourself overpowered by Taken during which the best course of action is to sprint to the nearest street light. Those spread all over Bright Falls allow you to regenerate health (and battery life) and serve as checkpoints. Also, while you’re under a street light, the Taken cannot touch you, allowing you to catch your breath.

While combat gets a bit repetitive, moments of tense exploration in the countryside and cinematic cut-scenes that propel the story forward break the monotony.

The game is broken up into episodes, complete with a cliffhanger ending and the ‘Previously on Alan wake’ bit that serves as a quick recap.

Oddball protagonist
In true Remedy fashion, the protagonist Alan Wake has a habit of mouthing his feelings from time to time, some of which are cool, while others are painfully obvious. Sharing the limelight with Alan is a bunch of fine supporting characters, such as the annoying best friend with a heart of gold, creepy old ladies, obsessive FBI agents, weird shrinks, and lots more. The story can get a bit convoluted at times, which is why the game helps you out by scattering certain manuscripts along the way that update you on the ongoing situation.

Visual glory
Alan Wake may not achieve the visual brilliance of a God of War III or an Uncharted 2, but it is still an excellent looking game. In fact, we would say this is one of the finest looking Xbox 360 exclusives. There’s a bit of stuttering and certain textures look a bit dull, but that’s just nitpicking. Even though most of the game takes place at night, it isn’t terribly dark. Games like Condemned are so dark, that it’s impossible to play them during the day (unless your room is as dark as a cave), but Alan Wake achieves that perfect balance, allowing you to be fully immersed while not having to squint at the screen all the time.

Verdict
Alan Wake may not be worth the five-year wait Remedy put us through, but it still deserves to be played once. The story may get a bit weird and combat can get a bit repetitive at times, but it delivers an engaging experience that begs to be finished as soon as possible.

What we like
Lots of ammo
Excellent looking game
Game is broken up in episodes and offers recap
Perfect colour balance

What we don’t
There’s a bit of stuttering
Repetitive combat